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It seems like the topic of mental health only comes up after an awful tragedy happens. Perhaps you heard of a friend who passed away from suicide or there was another murder or mass shooting on the news. It seems that as soon as we begin the healing process of the last tragedy, another one comes from left field and slaps us with the brutal realization that there are people struggling with mental health all around us. We try to peel back the layers of what happened that led that person to commit suicide or murder and some of them had the signs written all over the wall and sometimes people are absolutely shocked at what had happened because it was so out of character for that person. Mental health issues can be like a deceiving snake; hidden in plain sight yet only revealing itself at the last minute and oftentimes, before it’s too late.
Before I made the decision years ago to see a psychiatrist and a therapist, I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t suffer from mental health issues because I wasn’t suicidal and I would never harm anyone. That is another common misconception- that our mental health struggles are not that bad. That whole idea of who has it worse is nonsense because we all deserve to live happy and fulfilling lives. Don’t hold yourself back from getting professional help because your issues may appear to be less than someone else; pain is relative. I remember meeting a woman who had come from a very rich family. She was gorgeous, wealthy, and educated. I also remember her telling me how bad her OCD is and that she has really bad anxiety. When I told her she should talk to a professional about it- she looked stunned at my suggestion as if being perceived as ‘having it all’ meant that your mental health had to be perfect as well. We ALL struggle. Celebrities, middle-class folks, low income people, new parents, grandparents- struggle doesn’t see color or status. At some point in everyone’s life they are going to experience pain and grief that can alter their mental health for life. Maybe it is a brief period of depression or maybe you developed an anxiety disorder after a traumatic experience- whatever the case may be, no one is guaranteed to have perfect mental health throughout their lives.
Maybe this relates to someone you know, or maybe this relates to you. Many people have been so conditioned to think that mental health issues are a taboo subject in itself and they let their invisible wounds fester until something bad happens. As mothers, taking care of our mental health seems like the last thing we have time for. We are so busy taking care of our kids, the house, our spouse, and everything else that we have little time left to take care of ourselves. Some of us are lucky to be able to take a five minute shower in peace so finding time to take care of your mental health definitely takes a back seat. As moms, it is SO easy to feel overworked, under-appreciated, sleep deprived, unhappy with our bodies, unhappy with our finances, or even unhappy with our relationships that the stresses of everyday life can really take it’s toll on us. Mental health issues amongst mothers is not uncommon at all- many of us have experienced some form of it to a degree such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, postpartum depression, bipolar disorder, or even suicidal ideation. Seeking professional help for these issues is my greatest advice to you. I struggled with postpartum depression, severe anxiety, and PTSD from my past and like many others out there, it began to fester until I was so miserable I could barely muster the strength to leave the house. That is when I made the decision to seek professional help from a psychiatrist as well as a licensed therapist. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I needed to see a professional and take medication in order to feel ‘normal’ because my friends and family have always claimed I was incredibly strong, so admitting that I needed help in order to feel normal was humbling to say the least.
Seeing a licensed therapist and ultimately a psychiatrist really helped pull me out of an awfully dark place. It may seem uncomfortable or even shameful at first but you are so worth it! Take that next step if you are struggling, I promise the rewards far outweigh the risk!
For the next several years, I divulged myself into self help material, spirituality, psychology, physical exercise, and eating healthy. I made the decision to see how I would feel not taking medication because I felt like I was at a place mentally and spiritually to ween myself off of it. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I was dead set on putting my newfound coping skills that I learned in therapy to the test. It has been almost three years since I have been medication and started putting my mental health first and I feel amazing. I was learned new ways to cope with my triggers and was able to enjoy life again without having to use medication. My spirituality and way of thinking changed and helped me overcome my depression. I started living in the present instead of the past and I made sure to get plenty of physical exercise! Do I still struggle occasionally? ABSOLUTELY.
Getting off medication isn’t for everybody! If you are considering getting on medication or getting off medication- PLEASE consult your doctor! I am simply talking about MY experience and what worked for me! Please speak with your doctor!!
I also still experience bouts of depression when I think about all the trauma I have been dealt throughout my life, especially losing loved ones; the only difference now is that I don’t stay stuck in that place. I still experience anxiety more often than I would like, but I am slowly learning to control it by using mindfulness techniques. I still experience panic attacks but again I live in the moment and use the coping skills and rationally thinking techniques I have learned to help calm myself down and think rationally. I am honest with my mental health needs and communicate them to my friends, husband, and family. I reach out when I am feeling down instead of shutting down and digging myself into a lonely, depressive hole like I used to. I avoid people and situations that bring me down which included letting go of relationships that were causing me too much emotional pain. I say no to commitments and social events that I know will leave me feeling drained. I HAD to make my mental health a priority, not only for me, but for my kids! My children deserve a mentally healthy mother and when I became a mom, I promised them that I was going to always try my hardest to be the best mother I could be. Being the best mom, by my standards, is always putting my mental health and self-care first before anything in my life. When I do this, I am literally at my best which means I am a better mother, a better wife, a better employee, a better friend…you get the idea.
How can you as a mom start putting your mental health first? Lots of little ways! They may seem little but these things combined can have a gradually significant impact on your mental health. These are the things that I personally do to keep my mental health, healthy!
~Be honest about your struggles and emotional needs to your friends and family.
~Release stress and tension physically. Exercise is releases endorphins, endorphins make you happy (insert Legally Blonde quote here).
~Divulge yourself in self-help and personal development material such as books, podcasts, documentaries, movies, etc.
~Heal the wounds from your past. Have unresolved childhood trauma? Find a therapist who can help you learn how to heal from the wounds you have suffered throughout your life whether it is childhood trauma, grief, addiction, abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. It is SO important to uncover the root cause of your pain. When we uncover it we can learn insightful lessons that contribute to personal growth and development.
~Unfollow social media accounts that make you feel like shit (yes, even if they are a ‘friend’ or a relative). Follow people and accounts that inspire you- constantly seeing quotes and positive messages can do wonders when you are struggling.
~Remove or distance yourself from friendships and situations that make you feel like crap. Are you apart of a mom group that is full of drama? Leave. Are you giving too much of your time to a friend who uses you? Stop. Does answering the phone every time your mom calls leave you exhausted and mentally spent? Stop answering and set boundaries.
~Speaking of boundaries— they are your friend! Set them! Set boundaries with friends, family, coworkers, in laws, etc. Boundaries are a very healthy thing to have in place when it comes to taking care of your mental health.
~Meditate. This is EVERYTHING. Taking even just 5 minutes out of your day to calm down your brain has scientifically been proven to help reduce stress. Learning to slow my thoughts down really helps me fight anxiety and panic attacks.
~When I eat like crap, I feel like crap not only physically but mentally. Make sure you are drinking enough water, eating plenty of greens, and avoiding processed foods and excess sugar.
~Last but definitely not least- make the time to do the things that bring you real joy. I’m talking about hobbies and passions, ladies! I know finding the time can seem impossible but you must do it. Even if you can only do it once or twice a month- that is better than nothing. Whether you love to paint, sing, go kayaking, meet your girlfriends for happy hour, read a book, or volunteer at an animal shelter– making time for what is important to you is so, well- important!
Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can start by changing ourselves. By changing ourselves and taking care of our mental health, we can truly be of service to others and can be that final push someone else may need to change, too. It may not happen overnight, but remember how much of an impact one person can have on others.
Remember, you are not alone and you don’t have to go through this alone! Reach out to friends or family, seek out a therapist, or even email us at @firstname.lastname@example.org if you need someone to talk to! (We are not therapists- we are simply caring friends)
*** Here are some helpful resources ***
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
- Help Finding a Therapist 1-800-843-7274
- Victim Center 1-800-394-2255
- Suicide & Crisis Hotline 1-800-999-9999
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1-800-950-6264
- Drug & Alcohol Treatment Hotline 1-800-662-4357
- Healing Woman Foundation (Abuse) 1-800-477-4111